A Fresh Agenda

A Fresh Agenda

Christopher Harries

Opposition in politics can be a difficult act, with fortunes often dependent on factors beyond the control of the politicians, advisors and strategists.

That famous quote on the fortunes of a government “Events, dear boy, events” attributed to the former Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan could also apply to the determiner on the success of an opposition. 

When thinking about the Welsh Conservative Party, it is fair to say that Macmillan’s quote has historically been applicable. In the run-up to the last election for the Welsh Assembly, the Welsh Conservative Party campaign was blown off course by uncertainty over the fate of the Steelworks in Port Talbot and an insurgent party in the form of UKIP.

With the next election for the Welsh Parliament looming history could be repeating itself?

Events like the coronavirus pandemic have buffeted the electoral fortunes of the Welsh Conservatives. Polling earlier in the year had support for the Welsh Conservatives at a record high, with the party projected to win twenty-six seats in the Welsh Parliament.

Recent polling, however, has seen the Welsh Conservatives polling figures that would see gains albeit not to level that would see Labour supplanted as the leading party in the Senedd. While the party could haemorrhage support to the anti-devolution Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party

It appears that the Coronavirus pandemic has asserted devolution in the mind of the Welsh electorate, reinforcing responsibility and opposition. At the same time, the Welsh Conservatives fortunes have been hampered by events in Westminster and the rise in support for the insurgent party hostile to devolution.

The previous impact of external events and insurgent parties upon the electoral fortunes of the Welsh Conservatives poses the question of how the Conservative group should proceed.

Instead of the conventional Welsh Conservative approach to opposition in Cardiff Bay, the party should take a different approach. The Devolution Revolution outlined in the last few months could be a foundation to build on. 

Paul Davies MS could use the coming weeks and months to outline a new approach for governance in Wales post-pandemic. The reconciliation of the devosceptic Conservative support base with political reality is essential for the success of the campaign. 

Reconciliation requires more than just words, in an article for Conservative Home Davies MS stated:

“And yes, I have been listening to the concerns of those who want to reverse the devolution settlement. I hear you, and I understand.”

Despite this statement, the article failed to convey an appreciation that devoscepticism is more than just dissatisfaction with perpetual Labour governance. Fundamentally the concept of devolution is in itself the problem, as such a set up is incompatible with the unitary nature of the United Kingdom. 

Earlier in the article, Davies MS asserted that “devolution has not been a disaster. But it does need a complete overhaul.” 

If a complete overhaul is necessary, are we not to infer then that this manifestation of devolution has indeed been a disaster?

So to reconciliation, the group under Paul Davies MS have talked about features of Cardiff Bay like the commission budget, saying no to further devolution of powers and measures like a civil service reform. 

Davies MS must be prepared to go further in the course of the Devolution Revolution. A localism agenda to enhance decision making at the local authority level, creating metro mayors for the parts of Wales too often overlooked by the devolved parliament like North, Mid and West Wales.

Davies MS should be mindful of the famous quote ‘Like Saturn, the revolution eats its children‘ by Jacques Mallet du PanWith an insurgent anti devolution party on the flank, it could be that the new status quo is overwhelmed by the forces unleashed by the Devolution Revolution.

Short of abolition, divesting the Welsh Parliament of competencies should be the ambition of the Devolution Revolution. To localise certain powers and where appropriate restore competencies to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. 

This approach fits with the principle of localism and ends the nation-building that has been the primary focus of the last twenty years.

Such an approach also reflects the reality that the public is not yet at the point of abolition. 

While the public may not be at the point of abolition, it is clear there is apathy to the institution, you only have to look at the turnout for the devolved elections. So effort must be made to engage with those apathetic of the devolved institution.

The Welsh Conservatives should take the opportunity to redefine the accepted rules of opposition and ignore the guidance of the devophile chattering class. This approach would allow the Welsh Conservatives to set a localism agenda, focused on helping build a foundation for recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Welsh Conservatives should take the opportunity to redefine the accepted rules of opposition in Cardiff Bay and with it the devolution settlement. 

The Real Devo-Disaster

The Real Devo-Disaster

Matthew Paul

What with a pandemic, Brexit still not entirely done and Dom’s blazing feud with Princess Nut Nut, it’s understandable that a busy Prime Minister might overlook little things like Wales and Scotland. That being so, we should perhaps be grateful that Boris Johnson paid the Celtic fringes of Empire some attention this week, when (The Sun reported) he told a Zoom meeting of Conservative backbenchers that devolution had been a disaster, and Tony Blair’s worst mistake.

This was obviously wrong. Devolution wasn’t even in Tony Blair’s top three mistakes: kicking hereditary peers out of the legislature, letting Mo Mowlam wreck peace negotiations in Northern Ireland and banning fox hunting were far worse.

Still, for twenty years the devolved institutions Blair created chugged away, like little tugboats pulling the nations of the United Kingdom away from their berth. Blair’s idea was to gerrymander devolution so as to permanently exclude the forces of conservatism from power. The real disaster was his miscalculation in creating institutions which exercised power without responsibility. The devolved parliaments gave secessionists dunghills to crow from; trumpeting every bit of good news as Wales/ Scotland’s own, and every policy failure as Westminster’s fault.

Welsh devolution has had a rotten two decades. Nothing is administered better in Wales in 2020 than it was in 1999, and much has deteriorated. The Welsh NHS now has nearly half a million patients on waiting lists: one in six of Wales’ inhabitants. 120,000 of them are waiting more than 8 months for treatment. The name Betsi Cadwaladr has acquired connotations of lethality that Ratko Mladic would envy. Mark Drakeford hasn’t done any better in restricting the spread of Covid-19 than Boris Johnson; Merthyr Tydfil recently became the UK’s undisputed champion of Covid with 741 cases per 100,000 of those unambitious enough not to live elsewhere.

If health is bad, the dog’s dinner Welsh Labour has made of education is worse. PISA tests have shown Wales’ education system to be far and away the worst in the UK, and –excepting some monobrowed Eastern Bloc extremities where they still use horses to pull freight– among the worst in Europe. Many Welsh state schools failed to teach even one online lesson to their pupils between April and July. Because no-one learnt anything in lockdown, the Welsh Government took decisive action to avoid embarrassingly bad exam results in 2021. By cancelling the exams.

Devolution wasn’t even in Tony Blair’s top three mistakes: kicking hereditary peers out of the legislature, letting Mo Mowlam wreck peace negotiations in Northern Ireland and banning fox hunting were far worse.

Matthew Paul

Boris Johnson’s stupid comments are, of course, a gift to his opponents. Welsh and Scottish nats will say he is insulting Scotland and Wales; Mark Drakeford and Nicola Sturgeon will say Johnson is jealous of their success. If the Westminster Government can be made to look hostile and alien, so much the better. Likewise, the hard-right tiddler parties –UKIP; BXP/Reform UK; the Abolish the Welsh Assembly [sic] Party– will be rubbing their hands together with delight when they see the Prime Minister doing their job for them.

Campaigning for the abolition of the Senedd is an easy gig, because being anti-Devo is being anti-politics, and no-one likes politics. Wales’ 60 members of the Senedd are just 60 snouts in the trough, and Abolish is getting good at running lurid ads on social media fomenting outrage at MS’s fat salaries (they’re paid about the same as a secondary school head teacher).

A significant part of the Welsh Conservatives’ support base, which turns out reliably to vote Tory at General Elections, hates the Senedd and sympathises with the abolitionists. The difficulty for Abolish is getting these Tories to give enough of a stuff about abolishing to actually go out and vote Abolish. Usually, Tory protest at the existence of the Senedd takes the form of sitting sullenly at home on election day and then spending the next five years moaning about Wales being a Labour dictatorship. Which, being fair, it basically is.

There may be a degree of hypocrisy in seeking membership of an institution you don’t believe should exist, but the purpose of Abolish isn’t really to win seats in the Senedd. Like the Brexit Party, it is a big electoral blackmail designed to push Conservative policy away from the centre ground and towards an anti-Devo stance. Like BXP, it is causing a good deal of trouble for the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd, when Abolish mocks them for going native.

Devolution hasn’t worked for Wales, but that’s not devolution’s fault and it certainly isn’t the fault of the Conservative opposition in the Welsh Parliament. It’s the Labour Party’s fault, compounded by Labour’s little helpers in Plaid Cymru. For 20 years, Plaid have supported Labour at every opportunity in forming a government, in the cynical hope that Labour will make a big enough mess of it to get Plaid in next time round. Every time, all this cunning plan succeeds in doing is lumping Wales with another useless Labour Government.

Devolution in Wales has also failed because Wales is over-governed, and not because the Senedd itself is too large or powerful. With 22 local authorities and 730 town and community councils, there are too many tiers of government, and responsibility slips through the cracks. From health to highways, voters don’t know who’s responsible for what. When the Welsh NHS fails, the Welsh Government blames the Tories on one side and their own health boards on the other. Education and other public services are run by a cabal of self-interest groups, with almost three quarters of Welsh workers employed in public-sector jobs.

Devolution –as Ron Davies said when not looking for badgers– is a process not an event. It has not been a disaster, but neither do the current structures of government in Wales serve the country well.

Rather than being pushed around by Abolish in a direction that will only stoke secessionism, the Welsh Conservatives should lead the debate on how government in Wales, at every level, can be radically restructured to serve the people of Wales better. They should propose abolishing councils, not the Senedd; our Parliament needs more politicians, responsibility and power, not less.

Ignore the idiots and take the vaccine

Ignore the idiots and take the vaccine

Matthew Paul

For anyone whose political instincts tend towards the position that liberal democracy is the best way to order society; and that individual liberty isn’t the Government’s to give, and shouldn’t be take away without good reason, these are tricky times.

Liberty is irrelevant to the sort of people (let’s call them Coronazis) who think they should only be permitted to leave their houses when it is safe, and democracy’s downside is finding that a large enough number of people –whether out of ideological difference, self-interest or pure stupidity– disagree with you and are in a position to order you to do stupid things.

Perhaps that doesn’t matter, because the UK and devolved Governments have more or less ignored democracy in its established and constitutional form throughout the pandemic. Laws placing restrictions on our liberty which weren’t even deemed necessary when cities burned and armies of invasion massed across the Channel, have been imposed without scrutiny by Parliament.

See the source image
Source: Snopes

While Coronazis successfully egg the Government on to ever-further economic self-flagellation, we’re faced on the other side with Covidiot anti-vaxxers, who (believing Covid-19 to be a ‘plandemic’ and vaccines an evil scheme to depopulate the planet) are intent on doing everything they can to bugger up attempts to achieve herd immunity.

Matthew Paul

The Government sussed out early in the game that the sentiment among a majority of voters seems to be that they couldn’t give a stuff about liberty or democracy, so long as they’re safe. Suppressing the spread of a frequently asymptomatic infection with a mortality rate less than half of one percent has supplanted every other political priority. A trillion pounds of debt, a mental health crisis, the prohibition of public Christian worship and millions of unemployed don’t matter, so long as we don’t get a cough.

It would of course be heavenly to be Like New Zealand: a nation-scale version of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, where nobody ever goes in and nobody ever comes out until the whole world is safe again; or until after several generations of living on pure empathy New Zealanders evolve into something so alarmingly different from the rest of humanity that we have to nuke them. Unfortunately, the virus was out and about in the UK long before the Communist Party of China decided to let on, and eradication is a fantasy. We have to learn to live with a little more risk in our lives, until the British population acquires sufficiently widespread immunity to Covid-19; in one of the two usual ways.

Happily, this week saw the first real ray of light in the Covid crisis. Driven by the twin incentives of vast quantities of cash and fierce global competition, pharmaceutical companies in America and elsewhere seem close to bringing effective vaccines to market. Pfizer reported (a little too late, probably on purpose, for Donald Trump to take the credit) that clinical trials projected its vaccine to be 90% effective.

If anything, the good news is making the Coronazis double-down on caution. After all, if it’s only a few months until we’re safe, why take any chances? A quite amazing 46% of respondents to a poll believed that lockdowns should continue, even after the widespread roll-out of a vaccine.

And while Coronazis successfully egg the Government on to ever-further economic self-flagellation, we’re faced on the other side with Covidiot anti-vaxxers, who (believing Covid-19 to be a ‘plandemic’ and vaccines an evil scheme to depopulate the planet) are intent on doing everything they can to bugger up attempts to achieve herd immunity and enable us all to get on with our lives and businesses. While the Coronazis present themselves as the voice of cautious common sense, the anti-lockdown debate has been hijacked by Covidiot loons. Social media enables anyone with a stupid idea to amplify it among people even stupider than them; as stupid, even, as members of the Corbyn family. Conspiracy theories that the coronavirus and its proposed prophylaxis are a deep state plot are so widespread as to appear mainstream.

And however deep the deep state that’s supposed to be putting this fiendish conspiracy together, it comes nowhere near the bottomless, oceanic, French-philosophy-student-smoking-a-Gitane profundity of the wilful pig-ignorance of the anti-vaccine headbangers. There’s no helping them. They’re too far gone. How they get radicalised and ‘red pilled’ into believing this madness is the subject matter of a far longer article, but start discussing the eradication of smallpox or a hundredfold decrease in infant mortality anywhere around hard-core anti-vaxxers and they give you the sort of thousand-yard stare you’d get off Rebecca Long-Bailey if you asked her to join you out fox hunting with Lord Rothschild.

Others –vaccine-sceptics rather than doolally deniers– don’t necessarily see themselves as living in a state of enlightenment compared to the rest of us sheeple; just that they’re a little bit smarter than everyone else: “I won’t take the vaccine until Boris and the other politicians have had it”, they say with a knowing wink. “I won’t be a guinea pig”.

The good news is that they won’t have to be guinea pigs, because –as medicines regulators throughout the free world have made perfectly clear– the approval process for new vaccines has not changed one bit because of Covid-19. Actual guinea pigs have almost certainly already had it, as well as human guinea pigs in all the usual cascade of regulatory approvals which the clever-clever vaccine sceptics (who, for one reason or another, seem to overlap in remarkable numbers with Eurosceptics) generally say are holding back British business and need to be done away with.

Lockdown lovers and anti-vaxxers are two sides of the same coin. Overcaution, irrationality and an inability to understand and deal with risk are ruining the country. As soon as it’s available, take the damn vaccine and let’s get on with life.

This article was originally published in The Pembrokeshire Herald.

Another Path

Another Path

Christopher Harries

The agitation for Welsh independence continues, Yes Cymru boasts of a surge in membership while the academic Laura McAllister continues to write about the future of the Union.

Two- time Plaid Cymru parliamentary candidate McAllister has previously written of her belief that the Unionists would ultimately be the ones who destroyed the Union, now this analysis could have some merits.

There indeed appears to be a crisis of confidence within the ranks of those who identify as Unionists. Missteps in response could inadvertently fuel the separatist movements rather than dampen them.

Some Unionists have come to believe that the Union can survive through constitutional reform with enhanced devolution that would create a confederal, United Kingdom.

Such an approach would be misguided, moves towards such a body would further weaken the integrity of the United Kingdom. The confederal approach ignores the reality of the last twenty years, devolution seen as the means of reconciling national identity within the United Kingdom has merely created a viable framework for independence.

In addition to creating a viable framework for independence, devolution has also created a cycle of agitation. Cardiff Bay may have responsibility for devolved powers however irrespective of the devolution settlement Westminster receives the blame for Wales woes. Just look at how the campaign group Yes Cymru often asserts that Westminster is failing Wales.

Any challenge to this narrative receives the response that despite devolution Westminster is responsible for funding and so any failings are excused due to inadequate funding. So the cycle of blame continues despite Westminster having passed competencies to the devolved institution, with Westminster now presented as a miserly impediment.

At the same time as being presented as a miserly hindrance, the notion of Westminster funding infrastructure projects like the M4 relief road is criticised, as an assault on devolution. So one way or the other, Westminster will be subject to flak, acceptance of the status quo will not get the validation of the separatists.

So the time has come for Unionists to chart another path. This path requires Unionists to be more assertive and reclaim the debate. To do so changes the nature of the relevant independence debates.

The Union is not merely a development body to fund infrastructure project and the constituent nations. Those of us, who have lived across the United Kingdom know that it is a paradox, four nation-states yet at the same time one. Different in their own way but at the same time bonded by history and culture.

If the separatists can frame the United Kingdom as a mere political union, it is disposable. Nationhood is a romantic notion, so Unionists must counter the lure of independence by asserting the reality that the Union has evolved to become a nation in its own right.

To reframe the debate to reflect reality allows Unionists the opportunity to fight this debate on equal terms. Language alone will not suffice, however, and so Westminster often maligned must become savvier to avoid fueling the separatist narrative. The government of the United Kingdom must be must not be perceived to treat any of the constituent nations differently.

When the First Minister, Mark Drakeford wrote to the Chancellor before the implementation of the Firebreak lockdown requesting the Job Support Scheme start a week earlier than planned to provide support to those impacted by the Firebreak lockdown. The Treasury rejected the request, the Secretary of State for Wales suggested on social media, that the Welsh Government when requesting this also failed to ask for an extension to the Furlough scheme. Did Treasury officials lack the initiative to propose an extension of the Furlough scheme in the circumstances?

Whether this is entirely accurate of developments, it certainly fitted a narrative. A narrative where England is treated differently to the other constituent nations, decisions are made, implemented and then funding allocated out as a consequence via the Barnett formula.

In the Letters page of The Spectator last week, was a piece by Mr Wheeldon from Peniel. In that correspondence, Wheeldon set out the eminently sensible suggestion that the Westminster government should look to intervene where a devolved institution was failing to deliver like health or education. This transference

To change approach can safeguard the integrity of the United Kingdom, changing perception both in rhetoric and action. The time has come for Unionists to make the case that the United Kingdom is not just an ‘insurance policy’. Westminster must be more proactive and intervene where necessary assuming responsibility for services if the devolved institution is failing to deliver for the people.

If he won’t concede, drag Donald Trump from the White House by his wig

If he won’t concede, drag Donald Trump from the White House by his wig

Matthew Paul

It was a bit of a surprise in October when the ageing, hamburger-stuffed President of the United States of America failed to drop dead from the Covid. Possibly Mephistopheles granted Donald Trump one term in office in return for his poisoned soul, and the President was damned if it was all going to be taken from him before he was, well, damned.

Whether Hell or handcuffs await Trump the moment he steps outside the White House as a private citizen, he is putting up one hell of a fight to stave off the evil hour. A weird, menacing premature victory speech on Wednesday morning set the tone; followed by a premature victory party in the White House (though, to be fair, this was the only way Trump ever was going to have a 2020 victory party).

The Donald claimed to have won the election, which he hadn’t. He said the election was being stolen before GOP voters’ eyes, which it wasn’t. He demanded that states stop counting, which they weren’t going to do. He set fresh and unevidenced conspiracies running, to the effect that ‘ballot dumps’ of tens or hundreds of thousands of Biden votes were being pulled out of thin air to rig the vote. Proof of this troubling phenomenon being hard to come by, Trump left it to his supporter base –who like a good conspiracy– to concoct some. Dubious memes purporting to show a huge ballot dump of 138,000 Democrat votes in Michigan (in fact showing a typo by a press agency) have been doing the rounds.

In Britain, when a Prime Minister loses an election the removal men are bumping into him on the stairs of No. 10 Downing St as he goes down to face the press outside. America affords an ousted President eight more weeks (if he’s a single-termer defeated by an opponent) to skulk in the Oval Office, turning his idle hands to the Devil’s work. Trump has already started flinging writs around like confetti; filing suits in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin to demand recounts.

Donald Trump’s prospects of success at law in challenging states’ vote-counting procedures are minimal, but irrelevant. He means instead to create a false (or, at best, wildly exaggerated) narrative of widespread election fraud; to disrupt democracy and remain in power by other means. It’s working. Democrats –even sensible ones– are talking about potentially violent resistance, and on Wednesday idiot armed Trump supporters stormed a counting office in Arizona, demanding an end to the count.

It shouldn’t have been this way, and the Democrats must accept some of the blame; they couldn’t have done Trump more favours. Once again, the party overlooked the statistically significant link between the competence of a candidate and the likelihood of his or her being elected.

True, Joe Biden had been a competent, amiable Vice-President to Obama, and you don’t hang around Capitol Hill for half a century without learning a trick or two. Unfortunately, as the campaign wore on it became clear he’d forgotten every last one of those tricks, plus the identity of the sitting President (at a rally, he mistook Donald Trump for some continuing emanation of the Bush dynasty). When you are brought into an American accident and emergency unit with head injuries, the first thing they ask (after your health insurance number) is “who is the President?”

Trump’s cruel ‘Sleepy Joe’ tagline hit home and did real damage, but it wasn’t only Biden’s dozy decrepitude that made a tightrope walk out of what should have been a cakewalk. Just as the British electorate was appalled by Jeremy Corbyn’s contempt for Britain, visible contempt for America from what styles itself the progressive left of the party alienated many working class Americans, including black and Hispanic voters. The sight of #BlackLivesMatter activists burning black businesses and tearing down statues of abolitionists prompted many black people –who felt their own lives and livelihoods did in fact matter– to choose deplorability over anarchy. Black men swung towards the Republicans in surprising numbers, and Biden’s failure to sway the Latino vote in Florida cost him that sizeable state.

Ironically, it was Trump’s 2016 core supporters –white, working class voters in the disaffected mid-West rust belt– who dealt his Presidency the coup de grâce, when Michigan and Wisconsin went blue. It may be that the original deplorables thought they had been suckered once and wouldn’t be suckers again, or perhaps they felt betrayed and let down when the effects of Covid-19 hit disproportionately hard in their communities. Either way, the people who swept Trump to power four years ago were instrumental in unseating him.

In Joe Biden, America hasn’t elected its best-ever President, but neither has it yet gotten shot of its worst. The immediate and troublesome imperative for American democracy is figuring out how to shift Trump and his Addams Family entourage out of the White House on 20th January, preferably without violence, or lasting resentment among GOP supporters.

If we’re lucky, The Donald may have a Plan B other than staying put: a lease on Idi Amin’s old villa in Riyadh, perhaps; or standing down in favour of Mike Pence so Pence can issue him the kind of all-in, unconditional blanket pardon that Gerald Ford gave to Nixon. Or the Devil might do us all a favour, and emerge in a sulphurous cloud on Inauguration Day to drag Donald Trump bodily and forever to the infernal abyss.

Losers’ Consent

Losers’ Consent

Christopher Harries

For any democracy to function, it requires losers’ consent. That foundation principle where those standing for election accept they may not prevail and respect the result accordingly.

In recent years can we be sure that all those involved in the democratic process have abided by this principle?

Granted not all have been as transparent as explicitly stating they do not respect the result of the ballot, colourful language is instead deployed to mask the intent and actions.

In the United Kingdom, following the referendum on membership of the European Union how often did we hear the accusations of foreign interference? 

Again in the United States of America, following the election of Donald Trump as President, the narrative became one of foreign interference.

Were concerns about possible foreign interference about protecting the democratic process or de-legitimising the result?

Now to be generous, some individuals may have acted on a desire to protect democracy, yet, others sought to wage a form of lawfare to try and frustrate results which did not sit with their world view or politics.

There is a place for the legal process if there are genuine grounds for concern however this should not be an avenue to try and prevent democratic choices from being implemented or ignored.

With the eyes of the world on the United States, let us not hold Trump to a different standard. His conduct with the result in the balance is as deplorable as Hilary Clinton blaming her loss on Russian interference or those in favour of Remain who sought to use the courts.

We should hope that in time, politics on both sides of the Atlantic matures and returns to the days where those who lose come to accept the result rather than seeking to circumnavigate or denigrate it.

The Death of Self-Responsibility

The Death of Self-Responsibility

Calum Davies


I am an avid watcher of Gogglebox and have often found it to be a decent barometer of the views of non-politicos like myself. Indeed, an article in The Spectator recently showed Keir Starmer failing the “Gogglebox test” when his ambiguous policies on tackling coronavirus caused consternation among the viewers. And with the pandemic and summer scheduling leading to shrinking content and increased focus on the political realm there have been plenty for the Goggleboxers to react to.

Sadly, what I’ve witnessed over the last few months further confirmed a worrying trend in our country: people have become too willing to surrender responsibility for themselves in favour of complaining about the powers-that-be.

The most obvious example on the show is every time there is an announcement of new rules or guidance to tackle Covid-19, there is derision about how unclear they are. This was even the case when the rules were at their simplest at the beginning of all this. It has been well-reported that the UK Government has had a communications problem over the last few months – demonstrated by that very complained-about lack of clarity – but are they actually too difficult to understand?

Yes, there are contradictions within guidance that can make things sound a bit nonsensical, but it seemed a lot of the complaining was down to rules not being so specific as to govern each and every action one took from whether to put one’s left or right foot forward first when walking. It was odd to see people complain that they weren’t being governed by diktat enough. The rules were and are not perfect but a great deal of people were being obtuse in their complaints, failing to exercise any common-sense whatsoever. Why think for yourself when berating politicians is so much fun?

I do not know what started all this: it could be social media pushing people towards having an opinion on everything or the “austerity” narrative of the previous decade making us all think the state is not doing enough and should be spending more of our money and increasingly intervening more in our lives. Whatever it was, the result was so much political discourse over the last few years focussing on asking government to do more so we can do less.

Another example has been the discourse surrounding post-Brexit trading agreements: public figures, inside and outside the political realm, have called on the UK Government to ban the import of certain foodstuffs. Why are people not trusted to make the choice for themselves what they want to buy in the supermarket? They can make the choice to support British farmers and thus the rural economy by buying high quality lamb or they can buy hormone-treated American beef. I know I would prefer to buy the former but why should I be prevented from buying the second? Why are consumers being denied the responsibility of making that choice, let along the freedom?

More recently there has been the debate on maintaining free school meals (FSMs) over school holidays. Devolved governments have guaranteed this but the UK Government is resisting doing so in England after buckling to the pressure of the campaign led by one of my favourite footballers, Marcus Rashford MBE, back in the summer. I have no doubt that his campaign is sincere and motivated by the want to do good for those who had a similar upbringing to his. Additionally, with this only applying to England and Wales (where I live) being a net receiver of Treasury income, it will have little effect on me other than the cost being a small drop in the ocean that is the UK’s ballooning debt.

(Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Although the fact foodbanks need to exist is obviously a tragedy, they show that individuals have felt a responsibility to help their fellow man in need rather than shirk their shoulders and say “not my problem, let the government deal with it”. Our sense of self-responsibility does not simply mean one must simply look out for oneself, but others too.

Calum Davies

Yes, it is wrong for children to go hungry in our country, yet some in the Conservative Party seem to be the only ones that recognise the slipping of self-responsibility here. This country, as the Prime Minister recently stated, can rightfully boast it has made free school meals in some form or another available for over 100 years. Now, those struggling families will rightfully be able to access a more generous Universal Credit system to help with their shopping bill. One could argue that free school meals are, thus, being provided but in a different form through increased welfare payments rather than possibly patronising food vouchers. However, it is the responsibility of parents to feed their children – the state should be the provider of last resort.

My concern stems from that it always harder to take something away than to give it – “Margaret Thatcher, milk snatcher” still endures nearly half a century on. Opponents of the Government have already been accusing ministers of taking away FSMs when, in reality, they are not being extended. If the UK Government were to buckle, I am worried that the measure will stay in perpetuity.

If so, then governments that have introduced the measure have then told a certain group of parents in this country they are never responsible for feeding their own kids because the government is doing it for them, in and out of school. Perversely, this could entrench an attitude of decreasing responsibility amongst some of those parents (by no means a majority) for their children, something to which Ben Bradley MP alluded.

There is also a contradiction here that those pushing the most for free school meals are the ones that complain the most about foodbanks. The difference is food supplied by the state, the other local communities. Although the fact foodbanks need to exist is obviously a tragedy, they show that individuals have felt a responsibility to help their fellow man in need rather than shirk their shoulders and say “not my problem, let the government deal with it”. Our sense of self-responsibility does not simply mean one must simply look out for oneself, but others too.

Indeed, the stories of businesses stepping up to the plate and offering to distribute food to the less well-off is not only heart-warming, but very much demonstrates that it is unnecessary for the UK Government to do what campaigners are demanding. This is the “Big Society” in action and it should be applauded. Rashford himself has praised these generous offers. Although I accept the point that his campaign and the Government’s decision to take the political hit is what inspired these actions, they undermine the argument that further state intervention is needed.

It is a shame that this sensitive issue is where the debate about self-responsibility has emerged. Nevertheless, re-instating that outlook is essential to ensuring our society functions and political discourse can cool down after being so fiery of late. The less responsible we become for improving the country as individuals, the stronger the state’s control over us becomes.

If we do nothing to stem the relinquishment of common sense and self-responsibility, we will see the nationalisation of ethics by default. And I am unsure what worries me most if that happens: that we don’t notice or that we don’t care.

In Response

In Response

Christopher Harries

Over the weekend former Cardiff Bay Conservative intern, Theo Davies- Lewis wrote for that taxpayer-supported entity Nation Cymru about the Welsh Conservatives. Davies- Lewis used the article to muse on the state of the Welsh Conservative party.

To start with, the UK government has not covered itself in glory in handling the Coronavirus pandemic, with numerous missteps and communication foibles. Another failing is allowing constituent parts of the United Kingdom to be seen as treated differently during the crisis. For instance, the rejection of the Welsh Government requests to bring forward support schemes seemingly without offering an extension to the furlough scheme fosters a narrative that undermines the Union.

Now Davies- Lewis suggests that the Welsh Conservatives have acted as the anti- devolution and anti- Welsh brigade for several months. We should not confuse ambition for reform with hostility to devolution. The ‘Devolution Revolution’ that Paul Davies MS advocates fundamentally seeks to reform service delivery. As for accusations of being anti- Welsh is pointing out a fiscal deficit substantive proof? 

Davies- Lewis suggests that the Welsh Conservatives should form their own identity, to some this would be eminently sensible. Yet who would ultimately be the leader of this entity? Would it be the Secretary of State for Wales or the leader of the Welsh Conservative group in the Welsh Parliament? 

The idea that the Welsh Conservatives should have a distinct identity poses several issues not confined to just conundrums over leadership. The electoral breakthrough from the General Election last year came on the back of the Westminster campaign with an unambiguously clear objective -namely to get Brexit done. Would the part have been as effective in December if it was a movement driven by Welsh issues? 

One could suspect that this idealised form of the Welsh Conservative party with David Melding MS at its core would not have had such an impact with the electorate. The party had several elections with Melding at the core, three National Assembly elections in fact where he helped to write the manifesto and did those elections yield electoral breakthrough? 

Melding is a well-read, thoughtful politician, yet his approach towards devolution appears to be out of step with the party membership. Polling from earlier this year suggests that 54-56% of Conservative voters would vote to abolish the Welsh Parliament in a yes/ no referendum. Such polling indicates that a softer approach to devolution may not be electorally prudent.

What Davies- Lewis may not appreciate that the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party historically has a degree of autonomy that the Welsh Conservatives have not had. Aspirations may exist in some quarters for the Welsh Conservatives to obtain greater independence, yet this seems an unnecessary distraction and ignores that the parties fortunes are dependent upon Westminster performance.

Returning to Melding, those who have read his musings on Last of the Unionists will note that he has long been against leaving the European Union and advocates federalism as the future for the United Kingdom. Those of who are unionists, see federalism as incompatible with the unitary nature of the United Kingdom. However, well-intentioned the suggestion of federalism is, it has limitations and would fail to bind the United Kingdom together.

For the Internal Market Bill, an observation it seems that those opposed to the bill often are those in support of the break up of the United Kingdom or are fully-fledged supporters of devolution. 

Where were there objections when the European Union held those powers? The lack of objection previously shows that the real issue is a fear of a more assertive United Kingdom.

Now, for the notion that the Welsh Conservatives are opposed to taking independent decisions within the UK, Davies- Lewis needs to appreciate that conservatives would welcome localised decision making. The reservations, Welsh Conservatives have about devolution is that power is that it is creating a viable framework to break up the United Kingdom.

Naturally there are merits to the assessment that Wales needs a strong opposition. The Devolution Revolution outlined by Davies and the Welsh Conservatives is the means for such opposition, rhetoric must now be backed up with detail.

Victim Blaming

Victim Blaming

Christopher Harries

Earlier today, Politico published a tawdry opinion piece by Farhad Khosrokhavar which sought to pin the slaughter of Nice upon what he dubbed fundamentalist secularism.

Let us be under no illusion. Fundamentalist secularism did not inspire the decapitation of Samuel Paty or the slaughter of the Notre-Dame de l’Assomption Basilica in Nice. The inspiration for such slaughter was radical Islam.

Secularism did not force Abdoullakh Abouyedovich Anzorov to behead Paty, nor did fundamentalist secularism force the Kouachi brothers to storm the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and commit murder.

Plain and simple, this is an attempt at victim-blaming. Indiscriminate violence or a death sentence is not a legitimate response to what some perceive as blasphemy. 

Rather than France’s supposed love of blasphemy stigmatising and humiliating moderate Muslims, the gratuitous violence by their fellow adherents in response to blasphemy profanes the faith of other Muslims. For those Muslims who quietly observe their faith, respect the law and live in peace to be seen as of the same faith as those who commit such atrocities is the real humiliation.

Let us stop trying to absolve perpetrators of such barbarism of responsibility. Would we try to excuse perpetrators of a crime like rape and instead try to blame the victim, on the basis that maybe their outfit or conduct encouraged such a crime to befall them? 

Mark Drakeford and his crazy laws are Wales’ most non-essential items

Mark Drakeford and his crazy laws are Wales’ most non-essential items

Matthew Paul

Andrew RT Davies, the plain-spoken, breakfast-means-breakfast former Welsh Conservative leader, wasn’t always at perfect ease in the director’s chair. RT’s barnstorming, “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll BLOW your house down, I will” style hit the spot at party conferences and in big, well lubricated after-dinner speeches. It was rotten on the telly and Davies never cut through with the public in the way he enthused his fans in the party.

It might just be that RT now, as Shadow Health Minister, isn’t facing an urbane, slippery and sly opponent like Carwyn Jones, but the hopelessly lightweight Vaughan Gething: a man so useless they need two people to do his job. It might be that Davies is better as a team player than a leader. Either way, over the last few weeks he has built up some momentum in opposing Welsh Labour’s repressive, arbitrary and unnecessary public health laws.

When Mark Drakeford brought in –without the slightest scrutiny from the Senedd– measures restricting the sale of ‘non-essential’ items so amazingly bone-headed that even a jaded Welsh public was confounded with astonishment, RT got stuck in:

“To the folks @asda, @Tesco, @sainsburys, @AldiUK, @LidlGB & co ahead of your meeting this afternoon with the Welsh Labour Government. In the absence of any common sense emerging at the top of government, please do take a stand for your customers. Wales is behind you.”

Mark Drakeford’s rattled response to RT’s tweet was a letter –written in his official capacity as First Minister– to the Shadow Health Minister, accusing Davies of encouraging supermarkets to break the law, and purporting to order the Welsh Conservatives to do what they are told in the future.

On any fair reading of his tweet, RT wasn’t suggesting anyone break the law. He wanted supermarket bosses to talk sense to Ministers, in the absence of any sense emerging from the Welsh Government.

But in any event, the tweet wasn’t capable of encouraging Asda etc to break the law, for the very simple reason that the ban on ‘non-essential’ items isn’t the law. Non-essential items aren’t mentioned anywhere in The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 3) (Wales) Regulations 2020, which bring the firebreak into force. Or in any of the dozens of other ill-thought out and unscrutinised statutory instruments that have spewed forth from the WG during the pandemic.

The ‘rules’ about non-essential items are found instead in guidance. Guidance, as its name suggests, isn’t law. It is correct to observe that Regulation 20 of the (No. 3) Regulations says shops “required to take reasonable measures under regulation 17(2) must have regard to guidance issued by the Welsh Ministers about those measures.”

Regulation 17 (2) imposes a responsibility on shops “of minimising the risk of exposure to coronavirus at regulated premises, or the spread of coronavirus by those who have been at regulated premises”. Among the measures listed in the Regulation (which deals mostly with social distancing) are “otherwise controlling the use of, or access to, any other part of the premises”.

The areas of a shop used to display a product have nothing at all to do with the type of product being sold, but the WG are trying to stretch the meaning of this provision beyond any logical tolerances, to impose restrictions on the things shops that are specifically permitted to remain open by the Regulations are allowed to sell.

Using guidance under Reg. 17 (2) for this purpose is probably unlawful, and almost certainly unnecessary. If the Welsh Government has any evidence to the effect that during the spring lockdown, measures to limit the spread of Covid-19 were undermined by people going on unnecessary outings to Tesco and gratuitously dawdling in the homewares section, they haven’t chosen to show it to the public. 

Regulation 20 in any event only says shops must ‘have regard’ to the guidance. They can perfectly properly consider the guidance, and tell customers (as did the Parc Tawe branch of B&M Bargains) to use their own judgement as to what is essential. What’s more, even if a shop were shown not to have had due regard to the guidance –perhaps because they thought the guidance was stupid and mad– it and its managers commit no offence under the firebreak regulations: Regulations 29 and 30 (which deal with enforcement) do not create any offence of failing to comply with Regulation 20. It isn’t clear what power –if any– the Welsh Ministers think they have to enforce these arbitrary restrictions.

Drakeford’s other stated justification for his crazy rule: creating a ‘level playing field’ with local shops which are obliged to close, is both probably unlawful –you don’t use health protection regulations to protect businesses from competition– and plain irrational. No First Minister with his head even half screwed on (and, looking at the gap between Drakeford’s jacket collar and his neck, you do sometimes wonder) would think that sending shoppers off to Amazon for their ‘non-essential’ stuff does anything to protect the businesses that have shut their doors.

The results, predictably enough, were just as irrational. In efforts to make Wales look like the most Philistine nation in the western hemisphere, books were banned from sale (this must be wrong: newsagents –which commonly sell books– are permitted to remain open, as are various libraries). Tesco banned women from buying sanitary products. Aisles were cordoned off and murder tape stretched across displays of greeting cards. A Labour MP on Any Questions strained every cog and gear of her intellect, before tentatively concluding that a kettle probably wasn’t essential because you can boil water in a saucepan.

Imposing arbitrary and irrational rules on people makes them angry, so it was no surprise to see a complete chump in Bangor called Gwilym Owen rampaging around his local Tesco, tearing off the Covid-covers and howling at the unfairness of it all: “Rip the f***ers off!” Mr Owen bellowed. “Kids’ f***ing clothes, it is a disgrace.” He has ended up in front of the Magistrates, and something of a local hero. Not all heroes wear capes, so another wag paraded around a Newport supermarket in just his underpants, on the basis that the shop deemed clothes unnecessary.

RT was absolutely right to call the Welsh Government out on this thoroughly bad law, and Drakeford should be ashamed of himself for trying to browbeat the Tories into supporting it (and for –presumably deliberately and if so in breach of the Ministerial Code– misrepresenting Davies’ position as encouraging supermarkets to break the law). Gwilym Owen’s ire was only directed at inanimate manifestations of the lousy rules, but it was just a matter of time before some fool like him ended up cleaning a supermarket worker’s clock, in a furious barney over a kettle or frying pan.